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How the Supreme Court Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage Could Affect Employee Benefits

On Friday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, effectively legalizing gay marriage in the 13 states in which it wasn't permitted by law. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations." Some of those more practical needs are about to be at the forefront of your employer's HR policies in the coming months. Here's what you can expect to see, in terms of changes to your employee benefits.

On Friday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, effectively legalizing gay marriage in the 13 states in which it wasn’t permitted by law. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.” Some of those more practical needs are about to be at the forefront of your employer’s HR policies in the coming months. Here’s what you can expect to see, in terms of changes to your employee benefits.

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  • If same-sex marriage was already legal in your state, probably nothing will change. Your company’s policies with regards to health insurance, retirement benefits, and other perks that extended to spouses and families, are likely to remain the same … with one possible exception.
  • If your company provided domestic partner coverage for non-spouses, you might see some changes in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges – even if your employer is primarily located in a state that already recognized same-sex marriages. Domestic partner coverage, which largely sprang from a desire to be fair and equitable to employees who couldn’t legally get married, may fade away now that it’s no longer an issue.
  • The best news, of course, is that employers will be required to offer the same benefits coverage to all legally married couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Thanks to Friday’s decision, it will no longer be legal to provide one standard of living to heterosexual couples and their families and not to every couple.

Of course, Obergefell doesn’t erase institutionalized homophobia overnight. Until there’s a federal law protecting LGBT employees from discrimination in the workplace, we’re likely to see a backlash for some newly married couples.

“The problem is, if gay marriage comes and gay couples go to get married, a number of them will get fired from their jobs for that,” Bryan Gatewood, a gay rights lawyer in Louisville, tells The LA Times. “You are going to stir all these people up when [gays and lesbians] get married, so you’re going to get more discrimination.”

In other words, while the Supreme Court’s decision is a major victory, the battle for total equality for LGBT workers isn’t over just yet.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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